Lebanon News

Lebanon Parliament holds rare legislative session

Speaker Nabih Berri surrounded by lawmakers ahead of a legislative session at Nejmeh Square, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Parliament passed several laws in a rare session held on Thursday, including the citizenship law, a food safety law and a law that would strengthen the army’s infrastructure.

Parliament convened Thursday for the first time in more than one year to approve financial and other laws after a last-chance compromise averted a boycott by two major Christian parties.

However, Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel walked out of the session soon after it began around 11:30 a.m. in line with his announced boycott of the meeting.

Three hours later, politicians needed a break and the meeting was adjourned until 5 p.m. In the first portion of the session, 12 bills were approved, among them the food safety law.

An agreement between Lebanon and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development and another with the European Investment Bank were also passed.

MPs failed to approve a $1 billion Saudi grant for the Lebanese Army.

Berri assigned the defense and finance ministers as well as MPs Ibrahim Kanaan and Samir Jisr with crafting a draft law pertaining to the grant to Lebanese security forces as well as assessing the military needs.

That grant was announced in August 2014 after the five-day battle between the army and extremist groups in the northeastern border town of Arsal.

That donation came several months after Saudi Arabia granted $3 billion to the Lebanese Army. That grant was approved by Parliament during a previous session.

Lebanon’s major Christian groups have criticized Speaker Nabih Berri for excluding an electoral law from the session’s agenda.

But a last-minute agreement was reached Wednesday after a flurry of contacts that involved Speaker Nabih Berri, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, head of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and other figures.

Hariri on Wednesday said that his Future Movement would attend Thursday’s session to pass what some deem to be urgent financial draft laws “related to Lebanon’s financial and economic interest and its relationship with the international community.”

Gemayel told reporters outside Parliament headquarters that Kataeb MPs withdrew from the meeting after Berri "refused to turn the legislative session into one to elect a [Lebanon] president.”

He labeled Thursday’s meeting “unconstitutional” and “illegitimate.”

“Today’s session is a coup against the [state] and the will of the Lebanese people,” he moaned.

Lawmakers have been unable to elect a new head of state since former President Michel Sleiman’s term ended in May 2014. Berri set Dec. 2 as a new presidential election date after MPs Wednesday botched for the 31st time the election of a successor to Sleiman.

Gemayel’s withdrawal did not affect the meeting.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam, who is also a legislator, was upbeat at the opening of the session.

“We hope to tell all the Lebanese that adhering to Lebanon and its unity and its institutions is a fundamental principle,” he said.

 

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